Cold weather peachy keen for local orchards

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Buds receiving sufficient chill hours from winter storm that could yield bigger fruit

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  • Peach trees on the grounds of Das Peach Haus on U.S. Highway 87 South during the "Blue Norther" that hit Fredericksburg on Thursday, Feb. 11. — Standard-Radio Post/Samuel Sutton
    Peach trees on the grounds of Das Peach Haus on U.S. Highway 87 South during the "Blue Norther" that hit Fredericksburg on Thursday, Feb. 11. — Standard-Radio Post/Samuel Sutton
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The icy cold weather may be taking its toll on some plants and trees in the area, but for growers of the county’s top crop, the conditions are just peachy.

“So far I don’t think we’re going to have a damaged crop,” said Paul Pehl of Behrends Orchards.

He said the weather has actually been good for the trees because they have not started budding yet and the coating of ice helped protect them from single-digit temperatures. His wife, Randy Pehl, said the moisture from the snow and ice is needed.

“It’s good for them at this stage,” she said.

Darlene Pirot of Wahls Peaches in Stonewall said she won’t know the condition of their orchard until later this week, but she said she is relieved that the trees are getting the chill hours they need in order to produce a good crop.

“They need to get about 700 chill hours,” she said. “Last week we were around 600.”

Donald Eckhardt Orchards posted on social media that the snow and cold are welcome.

“Let it snow! The crew at Eckhardt Orchards wishes you a beautiful snow day. We are, and have been, receiving the chill needed during tree dormancy to produce our next crop,” the post said.

Jenschke Orchards posted a video on Facebook of workers covering strawberry plants, but said the peaches should be in good shape.

“The peach trees should be fine (this time),” they said.

Gillespie County Horticulture Extension Agent Beth McMahon wrote in her column for the newspaper that the fruit trees in the area should survive the cold and ice without problem.

“Actively blooming fruit trees will suffer from freezing temperatures. If the temperatures are in the single digits, they can lose as much as 90% of their bloom,” she wrote. “Fortunately. fruit trees, including peaches, that are adapted to the area shouldn’t be blooming right now. The weather hasn’t been warm enough to trigger bloom in adapted varieties yet. 

“Dormant peach trees with fully dormant buds should be fine. Peach trees with buds just slightly swollen may see some bud death, but will not lose all their flower buds. This bud thinning isn’t a bad thing, because less fruit buds means you get bigger fruit,” she wrote.

Vogel Orchard issued a notice Tuesday saying its trees are in good shape.

“We were starting to see some very minor bud activity with the warm temps preceding this winter blast. Fortunately, the cold was preceded by significant moisture which hydrated the trees and then created an insulating ice layer throughout the tree canopies,” the company said.

“This combination is very encouraging, particularly with the extreme cold the last 36 hours. If this would have been a dry weather system, we could have received significant damage to both the fruit buds and the trees. Instead, the trees appear healthy and the buds are receiving very efficient final winter chill which should result in a strong bud setting.”